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The urban exodus and the climate

Jan 18, 2024 / Michael Gams, CIPRA International
Many mountain regions in the Alps are affected by out-migration. However, climate change is also causing some people to migrate – at least temporarily – from the cities to the mountains, as an Italian research project shows.
Image caption:
From the city to the mountains: in the face of climate change, more and more people from Turin and other big cities in the Po Valley are considering a move. (c)

When it comes to climate-induced migration, many people think of desert regions or sinking islands in the Pacific. However, climate change is also playing an increasingly important role in the Alpine region. According to sociologist Andrea Membretti, it is no longer just a lifestyle issue like the “New Highlanders” in the Alps who are searching for meaning and therefore starting a new life in the mountains. Prolonged heatwaves, air pollution and new, climate-related diseases mean that, increasingly, people’s own health is also at stake as the climate is undergoing dramatic change – for example in northern Italy, in the Po Valley around Turin, Milan and Verona. Millions of people live there, and most of them will probably remain there in the coming decades, says Membretti, who conducts research at the University of Turin. “If we assume that only three per cent of the population of Milan or Turin move to the mountains, that’s not a large number. But it’s still thousands of people.” In a village of 200 inhabitants, the arrival of just three new families can make a huge difference, says Membretti. He coordinated the MiCliMi project on climate-induced migration and mobility, which was completed in 2023.

Two thirds would move

The project launched by, the Italian association of the European Climate Pact Ambassadors, analysed the extent to which climate change is one of several factors that increase the likelihood of people moving from urban to mountain regions. More than 2,000 people were surveyed on the basis of a statistically representative sample. Two thirds were concerned about the effects of climate change, while a majority would consider moving to the mountains for at least a few months of the year. They would also like more information and support, however. Those owning a holiday apartment or house in the mountains already spend at least part of the year there. “So it’s also an issue of social justice when we talk about the effects of climate change in urban areas and mountain regions: we should guarantee genuine access to the mountains, irrespective of people’s income”, says Membretti. But people are not safe from climate change, even in the mountains. There are also increasing periods of drought and other risks to the quality of life there, such as social and geographical isolation or natural hazards such as landslides and the like. “We are all in the same critical situation with regard to the effects of climate change. That’s why everyone should have the right to move”, he says. Membretti also believes that both the state and regional and local authorities have a duty in this regard. “Such seasonal migration is not only an opportunity for tourism, but above all for the local economy in the mountains. This however will require the necessary political framework conditions.”


Sources and further information: (en, it), MICLIMI final report:,(it)